[T]his is just the latest iteration of an ongoing battle between this president and the GOP members of Congress to exert authority over policy. The result has been a president that’s growing more comfortable with executive action… and a Congress that is growing more comfortable with suing the president.
In the two-and-a-half months since the midterms, Obama has inked a couple of bilateral deals with China and eased the embargo on Cuba without any indication that he gives a flying fig what Congress thinks. During this week’s State of the Union address, he gleefully listed the various congressional foreign policy feints that he would veto. Whatever one thinks of Obama’s speech, the one thing that was particularly clear was his rejection of the new GOP congressional majority’s positions on most dimensions of foreign policy.
A day after the State of the Union, Congress’ response suggests that the GOP leadership is perfectly happy to engage in next-level foreign policy trolling:
Republicans in Congress moved quickly Wednesday to reject many of President Obama’s proposals from the State of the Union address — and invited the prime minister of Israel to rebut Obama’s Iran policy from the same congressional podium next month.That invitation to address Congress, extended by House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, marked a sharp rejection of Obama’s plea for Congress to stay out of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. If Congress votes to sanction Iran, Obama had warned, it could upset delicate and long-running talks.Boehner said he would ignore the president’s demand, taking the unusual step of inviting a foreign leader directly into an American political debate.
As the Associated Press reports, the administration is not particularly keen about this move:
The White House said Boehner’s invitation also was a breach of diplomatic protocol. Traditionally, no administration would learn about a foreign leader’s plan to visit the United States from the speaker of the House, said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
Said Boehner: “I don’t believe I am poking anyone in the eye.”
Uh-huh. Over at Vox, Max Fisher ain’t buying Boehner’s claims of innocence:
Netanyahu is playing a game with US domestic politics to try to undermine and pressure Obama — and thus steer US foreign policy. Boehner wants to help him out. By reaching out to Netanyahu directly and setting up a visit without the knowledge of the White House, he is undermining not just Obama’s policies but his very leadership of US foreign policy. The fact that Netanyahu is once again meddling in American politics, and that a US political party is siding with a foreign country over their own president, is extremely unusual, and a major break with the way that foreign relations usually work.
TPM’s Dylan Scott compiles more shocked reactions.
I know that, as a member in good standing of the foreign policy punditocracy, I’m supposed to be shocked and appalled about this kind of behavior. Truthfully, however, I can’t get too exercised about it, for a few reasons.
The first is that no honest observer can act as if Congress is the only player acting in bad faith here. This is simply the latest iteration in a perfect spiral model in which Obama and Congress, by trying to bolster their agenda-setting power, exacerbate relations with the other branch of government. At this point it really doesn’t matter who started it — the point is, it’s an iterative process and Obama has been trolling Congress just as much as Congress has trolled Obama.
Second, I’m dubious that any of this will actually alter the status quo on U.S. foreign policy. I doubt that a Netanyahu speech is going to move the public opinion needle all that much on a foreign policy issue that does not engage most Americans. I seriously doubt that Congress will override an Obama veto and enact the Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill, especially when a president who is trending upwards in popularity lobbies actively against it and the Israeli government is split about it. The last — and, I believe, only — time Congress reversed U.S. foreign policy over a presidential veto was the 1986 Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act. Reasonable people can disagree about the administration’s Iran policy, but it is not nearly as objectionable as Reagan’s views on South Africa.
Which means that most of what’s going on is just a massive trolling exercise by both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue — and God help me, I can’t look away. If there is not going to be any real-world policy reverberations, then pass me the popcorn and let me watch just how the Obama administration and the GOP-led Congress will goad each other even further on foreign policy using the limited tools that they have. Here’s my dream scenario:
- Obama reverses the executive branch’s noninterference position on the upcoming Israeli election and refuses to let Netanyahu visit the White House.
- Congress passes a “Sense of the Congress” resolution declaring that Oct. 21 should be “‘Suck it, Iran!’ Day” in the United States in honor of Bibi Netanyahu’s birthday, and therefore a national holiday.
- Obama convenes a secret summit with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and immediately thereafter posts a selfie with him on Instagram.
- In retaliation, at least 400 members of Congress post Vines of themselves dancing to “Uptown Funk” with the Israeli Ambassador to the United States.
- Obama outsources one of his Saturday radio addresses to Israeli Labor Party leader Yitzhak Herzog right before the upcoming Israeli elections.
- Congress says, “screw it,” invites Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to address a joint session of Congress without informing Obama.
You get the idea.
So in the short term, I can’t share the outrage voiced by so many at what is some superior congressional trolling of the administration. In the long term, of course this sort of partisanship over foreign policy is going to make life difficult for future presidents — and therefore American foreign policy. But that’s why I drink a lot.